We arrived at the little coastal town of Placencia, Belize, Monday afternoon. Lots of big, fancy houses on the outskirts of town, with sparkling canals running between green, well-kept lawns. Resorts. Guest houses. Signs all along the road with the names of American realtors such as Coldwell Bankers. “Americans own all of this,” Bert told us. And, “You all should go together and buy a house down here. That’s what everybody does.”
We chuckled. Not in the plans. No way did we have extra money lying around to spend on a Caribbean vacation home. But a Caribbean vacation was definitely in the plans. After months of Wisconsin winter and the cement walls of our workplaces–a school room and a butcher plant–we were ready for it.
Unfortunately, the sky was gray and drizzly, no sun in sight. And Lydia’s Guesthouse, which had been recommended to us and where we had planned to stay, was full. Bert looked worried. “I thought you had a reservation. You have to call ahead for a place. Everything will be full.”
Thankfully, Bert happened to have a friend in town. He took us to a place called Omar’s, where he talked to a pretty lady relaxing at a table in the gazebo-style restaurant. She made a few phone calls and said we could stay.
Here is Omar’s pictured at night. Their special, the $50 lobster fiesta, would be worth $25 in American money.
Nothing fancy, we found when we saw the rooms. We had to share a bathroom and shower with one other guest. But it was clean, and much cheaper than we could have hoped, considering we were staying in a resort town where everything had American prices.
We ordered a meal at Omar’s, changed clothes, and headed for the beach. Who cared that it was raining? Not us. We wanted ocean.
After our saltwater initiation, I wandered away from the others to walk alone along the beach. When I came back, I found a head buried in the sand! Thankfully, a little whiskey revived her…
Just kidding. Actually that’s an empty bottle I found washed up on the sand. I toted it through Belize, Guatemala, and back to Wisconsin, and when I unpacked my suitcase at home, wondered,What am I ever going to do with this, anyway? and threw it away. Sigh.
The next day was beautiful and sunny. We went snorkeling.
See how I have my mouthpiece clenched between my teeth? That’s how I wore it the entire time, because NOBODY told me you were supposed to put the whole thing in your mouth.
As a result, I swallowed too much saltwater and got sick to my stomach. I had to upchuck a little bit in the water while we were snorkeling. Sure hope puke doesn’t hurt all that beautiful coral we were warned not to touch. 🙂
Afterward, when I found out I’d been wearing the mouthpiece wrong, I was a little peeved, because aren’t snorkeling guides supposed to mention little necessities like how to wear your gear? But I did enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. So un-American, with no one breathing down your neck about every little protocol. One got the idea we were actually expected to think for ourselves.
Here’s the whole group of us. That’s Tippa, our chef, with the long black hair, and Tiger, our guide, standing beside him.
We boated out to Laughing Bird Caye, where Tiger snorkeled with us in a wide circle around the island, pointing out various kinds of coral and colorful fish. It was awesome, like swimming live through Finding Nemo.
Tiger was very patient with us awkward newbies. Tiffany, the California girl who doubled as Tippa’s girlfriend, was also very helpful. The older couple in our group, experienced snorkelers and not quite so patient, swam off alone.
Tippa stayed back on the island to cook us our lunch.
After lunch, and after relaxing in the sun for a while, Tiger and Tippa took us out to a different part of the ocean. There we snorkeled with sea turtles:
and a shark or two. I don’t remember what type they were, but (if you were worried) they were not the kind that bite.
We also saw a spotted eagle ray and several mantra rays and an octopus. The water was clear as glass, and Benny, who had also swallowed too much saltwater and was too sick to snorkel, stayed on the boat and took pictures of the sea life from there.
The whole experience was amazing, something I never in my life expected to happen to me.
Heading back on the boat, we began to realize we had enjoyed the sun just a little too much. Accustomed to a comparatively weak Wisconsin sun, we had refused to use sun block. Now we were very, very red.
That evening and the next few days were painful ones. I developed an entirely new mole on the right side of my forehead. For the rest of my life, a souvenir of Belize! And a free one at that.
Sunburn or no, our adventure continued.
We left Placencia Wednesday morning. After a long, slow, hot ride in an old vehicle with a taxi driver whose manner made us feel very uneasy (my fault, because I’m the one who met and hired him), we arrived in the southern town of Punta Gorda. According to our taxi driver, it is located in the poorest district of Belize.
My dad’s cousin lives here with his family, eight miles down a muddy, rutted road into the jungle. Here is their home:
And here are Bruce and Regina Mishler and their children. Pictured with the family are three young people who were also visiting.
Bruce and Regina Mishler and their family. That’s Amanda holding Jerina, and Cedric standing beside his dad in the back. In front, from left to right, are Kazia, Benjie, and Lawrence. On the right of the photo are Johnny, Reba, and Haley, also visiting. (Disclaimer: The author of this post takes no responsibility for the spelling or misspelling of names herein supplied. In most cases, she is guessing.)
Not pictured in the photo above is Bruce and Regina’s oldest daughter Camilla, who teaches school in Blue Creek. Here she is, milking the family cow.
We deeply enjoyed connecting with these cousins whom we barely knew before. Their home was a welcoming and relaxing haven in the jungle.
My brothers slept in this thatched-roof house right down the road from the Mishlers’ house.
None of us had ever seen the underside of a thatched roof before, and were intrigued by the fact that while the outside looks like a mass of leaves, the inside is all neat, straight rows. The beams of this house were bound together by narrow strips of bark, which seemed to us an incredibly labor intensive method for building. Bruce told us that many people use twine instead of bark. A thatched roof is composed of three to five layers of thatch and typically lasts five to seven years before needing to be replaced. (Just in case you need to know that for your future building endeavors.) Thatch is a great natural air conditioner, much cooler than tin.
We loved getting a taste of jungle life. Like glimpsing a couple of Belize nationals paddling a dugout canoe down the river. And using an outhouse and a cement shower, cold water only. And eating dozens of sweet, flavorful bananas.
Abbey did some laundry Thursday morning and found it still damp after it had hung out in the humid air for a full day. We tried to finish drying some of it in the oven, but forgot to take out Jeffrey’s wallet afterward, and his driver’s license melted and buckled. (Try to explain that to a police officer.)
Jeffrey in particular was fascinated by the Mishlers’ methods of getting power. Their washing machine is run by a generator which is also hooked up to a battery. So every time they do laundry, the battery is charged. The battery, along with solar panels, supplies their other power needs. I believe if given half a chance Jeffrey would have rushed home for cash and then back to Belize to buy land and hack himself out a home in the jungle.
Sometime on Thursday my feet began to swell. At first I blamed it on the heat and humidity, or maybe my sunburn. But Cedric told me that some people swell up when they get bitten by a doctor fly, and then I blamed it on that annoying fly with the yellow abdomen that had buzzed around me as I was relaxing and reading on the porch. For the rest of the trip, my feet were like sausages, barely fitting into my sandals. A bit embarrassing in public places.
We spent quite a bit of time bouncing down the rutted jungle road on the back of Bruce’s pickup, singing sometimes, talking sometimes. Screaming occasionally, because Bruce had a tendency to hit the bumps hard while smiling in an amused way to himself (as glimpsed in his side mirror).
Thursday afternoon he took us down to the river, where they had a raft.
Bruce tied a rope to a tree on one side of the river and then jet skied across to tie it on the other side. This gave us a way to pull the raft across the river.
On the other side, we hiked a narrow trail in the jungle–a park of sorts, where vanilla plants were harvested, though the pods were not now in season.
Have you ever seen a baby pineapple?
We also tried out a jet ski for the very first time. Just a shout out to Liz and I–we took to it much more quickly than our brothers.
Friday morning, Bruce took us back into Punta Gorda, where we caught the water taxi to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.
See you there next time!